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Metro Nashville officials don't properly penalize Corrections Corporation of America for apparent contract violations in running the city's jail, claims a new report released Tuesday by a Tennessee-based watchdog group.
The report from Tennesseans for Improving Public Accountability says the Nashville-based company potentially violated its contract in the way it handled an inmate's suicide and an escape, among other incidents. Metro imposed no fines and withheld no payments as a result of these incidents, the report says, which calls on Metro to revise its contract to allow those measures and get tougher on CCA.
"When prisoners are treated in a less-than-humane manner, that reflects badly on not just the organization doing the immediate treatment, but also on the people that are paying them," said Toni Hall, volunteer director of the group. "If you hire someone to do a job for you and they do it badly, you want to have a contract that allows you to do something about that."
Metro's sheriff says many of the concerns raised in the report have been addressed. CCA hired a new warden, and staff from the health department are working inside the jail rather than reviewing situations from afar.
Metro government first contracted with CCA in January 1992 to run the 1,092-bed jail, which is mostly used for prisoners serving one- to six-year sentences.
This report is the latest in a series of hits against the private prison provider.
Last week, CCA was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union over claims an Idaho jail operated by the company is so violent, inmates call it "gladiator school." Last year, the company was sued by a Metro police officer shot by a man who escaped from a CCA facility and by a group of 23 female inmates who claim they were raped at a Kentucky prison.
Sheriff: Changes made
The report highlights several high-profile incidents at the Metro jail as examples of contract violations.
In the death of Terry Battle, an inmate who died from pneumonia, the report suggests that CCA violated its contract by not providing up-to-standard medical treatment to prevent the death. In the case of William Williams, an inmate who hung himself in November, the report alleges the company did not offer the appropriate psychiatric care. Williams killed himself two hours after being treated for a slit on his wrist, which he said was from a fall.
Metro Sheriff Daron Hall said CCA and the city have made changes to improve the care of Metro's prisoners. The sheriff's department is also now reviewing all "use-of-force cases," he said.
"We need to look and see what's been going on last 12 months and what's working," he said of the report's recommendations to add additional outside staff. "I think we need to evaluate how the monitoring is going now — as far as I can tell, it's improved dramatically."
Inmate Ricky Escue, who is serving a six-year sentence for DUI, said he hasn't seen a big improvement in the conditions. His biggest complaint is the inconsistency from officer to officer.
"Every officer has different rules and guidelines," he said. "You never know whether you're breaking a rule or not."
A CCA spokesman e-mailed The Tennessean a response to the report, saying that Metro has always held the company to a high standard of performance and questioning the watchdog group's motives.
"The selective use of salacious excerpts from past news articles, unsubstantiated individual accounts, and other partial information on which to base its claims should cause readers to question the merits," CCA spokesman Steven Owen said.
Tennesseans for Improving Public Accountability's director said she would not reveal the authors of the report out of fear of retaliation. She said one is a Metro employee, one is a state employee, one has a relative working at CCA and one is a former CCA employee.
Longtime CCA critic Alex Friedmann, a former prisoner who now works with the Private Corrections Institute, a nonprofit that opposes for-profit prisons, confirmed that he provided some research and information for the report.